Posted tagged ‘B.C. craft beer’

Back to Victoria: Craig Street Brewpub

July 3, 2015

Swan’s: still unvisited

After Elaine dragged me out of Phillips’ tasting room, I checked my list of breweries and brewpubs in Victoria that I hadn’t visited. Hey, only one brewpub remained: the venerable Swan’s Hotel.

Swan’s, a combination of boutique hotel and brewery, has been around since 1989. In years past, I had quaffed ale in their brewpub, but had never seen their brewing operation.

Alas, I never made it past the receptionist. Brewers are busy people, don’tcha know, they can’t just have anyone walk off the street and bother them. No, it really didn’t matter that I write a beer blog. Neither did I gain any traction by showing her my list with every name checked off except Swan’s.

So, Swan’s remains on my “to be visited” list. Guess I’ll have to call ahead and make an appointment next time I’m in town.


Only $350,000…? Hmmm.

(Update: Since my visit, another brewery has opened up in the Victoria area, the curiously named Category 12, apparently started up by a scientist who is turning his homebrewing hobby into a business. So now I have two places on my list.)


How can one visit Fisherman’s Wharf and not eat seafood?

It was still morning, and seemed a bit too early to head back to the Comox Valley, so we drove down to a part of the Inner Harbour called Fisherman’s Wharf. This part of the harbour is home (literally) to several dozen gaily painted floating houses. (“Floating houses”, not “houseboats” — apparently houseboats have their own engine for moving from place to place — these houses have to be towed from mooring to mooring.) We saw one for sale for only $350,000 (plus $970 per month in mooring fees, but interestingly, no property taxes, which makes sense since you’re floating on the ocean). For a brief moment, I imagined myself living down by the Inner Harbour. But there’s all of those pesky tourists (like us) gawking at your house every day and wondering out loud about living down by the Inner Harbour. Besides, was I ready to eat seafood every day?

Craig Street

Craig Street Brewpub, on Craig St.

With that in mind, we sat down and ate some seafood. Mmmm, maybe I could live like this.

And then it was time to head back up-Island. Of course there was a massive traffic stoppage at the narrow Malahat Pass — a multi-vehicle accident right at the summit of the pass had traffic stopped in both directions for over an hour. In fact it took so long to get over the pass that we decided to stop for some refreshments in Duncan, a small town just north of the Malahat.

pale ale

All hail Arbutus Pale Ale!

And where better to stop than Craig Street Brewpub, which predictably is located on Craig Street.

Constant readers of this blog will know that when I come across a well-made northwest pale ale, I rejoice. And at Craig Street, there was cause for rejoicing. All thoughts of traffic stoppages were erased by a pint of Arbutus Pale Ale, an unfiltered, aromatic gem. A small pizza and a sharing plate of panko-crusted crab cakes definitely left us gruntled.

(I’m assuming that since “disgruntled” means unhappy, “gruntled” must mean the opposite, right?)


Shiny brewhouse with a surprising amount of space

Unfortunately the Craig Street brewer was not at work when we were there, so all I could do was gaze through the window at the brewhouse, which seemed to be about 10 hL. Everything looked nice and shiny, and I was surprised at how much room the brewhouse and fermenters had. As I have mentioned before, often brewpub equipment is shoehorned into spaces so small, the brewer has to add “contortionist” to his or her resume in order to be hired.

120 kph

Check out the speed limit sign: 120!

But alas, we really had to get back to the Valley. As we hit the long straight stretches of the Island Highway north of Nanaimo, we got a pleasant surprise: the speed limit, which had been 110 km/hr (70 mph) the previous day, had been upgraded overnight to 120 km/hr (75 mph). Wheee!



Back to Victoria: Phillips Brewing

July 1, 2015

After visiting CANOE and Lighthouse, you might think that I had already enjoyed my fair share of beer and beer talk. And normally you might be right. But here’s something you might not know about Victoria: ALL the downtown shops and stores close at 5:00 p.m. That means there’s very little to do except walk  down to the harbour and watch the seagulls. Or look for a restaurant or bar. And drink beer. And talk about beer.

tapas & beer

Hoyne Pilsner and a shared plate

Luckily, Elaine & I have experienced Victoria’s early closing hours, and we did what we have done on several occasions in the past: we had dinner at one of our favourite spots, the Tapa Bar in Trounce Alley. Trounce Alley is one of those impossibly cute tourist draws, a narrow Victorian alley chock-a-block with tiny but trendy shops. And the Tapa Bar has been there as long as we can remember, well before tapas (shared plates) became popular.

Looking for a good all-round beer that can pair to a lot of Spanish-inspired dishes, I decided on Hoyne Pilsner, made just a few blocks away by Sean Hoyne and his crew. It turned out to be an inspired choice, the crisp noble hops giving an extra oomph to each of the locally-sourced garlic-spiced sharing plates.


Perfect latte

Our dinner only emphasized how much Victoria (and frankly, a lot of BC) is a foodie heaven. Even in a small restaurant, everything always looks and tastes so good. The next morning, even a latte in the hotel bar was presented with a sense of calm perfection.

Over our caffeine fix, Elaine discussed what to do and where to go before we had to head back up Island. First up, we decided, would be Phillips Brewing.

What is your emergency back-up beer? You know, when you’re in a restaurant that only has the standard mix of American and European lagers courtesy of AB Inbev, MolsonCoors and Heineken? Thankfully, when I’m in British Columbia, I usually don’t have that problem — even in restaurants that don’t carry a lot of craft beer, I often find Phillips Blue Buck on the menu, a well-balanced northwest-style pale ale with a bright nose and a snappy finish with a that goes well with a variety of dishes. It also happens to be Phillips’ best-selling beer.

Phillips Brewing

The funky exterior of Phillips Brewing

Matt Phillips opened the doors of his new brewery in nearby Esquimault in 2001 as the only employee, and quickly made his hoppy beers a mainstay of the northwest craft scene. Two moves later, and the brewery, now located in Victoria, has over 40 employees. And although the brewery makes many styles, it still has something of a reputation for beautifully bitterness — Phillips brewers have never been afraid to add another handful of hops. Or two handfuls.


Bottle organ

The exterior of the present location has that funky, eclectic “what should I do with these spare parts?” sort of exterior. The tasting room is likewise rather funky, complete with an organ made with beer bottles. And although it was empty when we entered at 11 am, that didn’t last for long — over the next thirty minutes, a variety of locals and regulars entered to get their growlers refilled.

We were greeted by Matt (not Matt Phillips who had founded the brewery, just Matt), who quickly poured me a sample of beer. Wow, for sure they aren’t afraid to use hops. As a matter of fact, of the 15 beers produced on a regular basis, no less than seven are what you might describe as hoppy.


Lots of fermenters inside…

After a few more samples, Matt took us on a quick tour. And what we saw is pretty neat. The 30-hL brewhouse is certainly capable of pumping out a lot of brews each year, but it’s the number of fermenters I found impressive. We counted four rows of them, filling up what seemed to be all available space. In fact, they did take up all the available space — in a major expansion a few years ago, Phillips had to move some of their fermenters outside, something you usually don’t see at a craft brewery. In total, they had  46 fermenters on site when we visited.

external fermenters

…and more fermenters outside.

They also were one of the first Canadian craft breweries to can their beer, added a beautiful Italian rotary canning line during that major expansion. Over the past year, canning has become the fad du jour in Ontario, but was definitely not common at craft breweries even just three or four years ago.

Back to the tasting room for a few more samples — Matt seemed determined to get me to taste every one of the current beers on tap, and I have to admit, I didn’t put up much of a fight.


Chocolate Porter + Raspberry Wheat. Amazing.

The best was saved for last, however: the final sample was a beer cocktail (a “beertail”?) that Matt made by mixing half Longboat Chocolate Porter and half Raspberry Wheat. The resulting colour was a beautiful chestnut. The nose was a decadent and heady mix of fruity chocolate. And the taste…

I fell to the ground, crying tears of joy.

It was with some difficulty that Elaine got me out the door, and only after I had purchased bottles of the Chocolate Stout and Raspberry Wheat in order to reproduce this magical ambrosia for friends and family.


Back to Victoria: Lighthouse Brewing

June 10, 2015


I have no idea how I managed to write an entire post about a brewpub and not include at least one photo of their beer, but somehow I did accomplish that feat yesterday when writing about CANOE Brewpub. So here’s a photo of their IPA. The 1-litre container behind it — sometimes called a “Boston round”, a “growlita” or a “growlette” — is actually filled with water, not beer. As you can also see, there were no large sea otters lounging about in the background, at least while I had my camera ready.

After lunch, we decided to head over to Lighthouse Brewing. Specifically I wanted to catch up with fellow graduate Matt Lyons, who had just moved out to Victoria after a year at Trafalgar Brewing of Oakville, Ontario. I was interested to see what he thought of life on the West Coast.

Lighthouse is a 17-year veteran of the BC craft beer scene, founded by brewer Paul Hoyne (brother of Sean Hoyne of Hoyne Brewing). Paul started with a single beer, kegged for sales to restaurants and bars, and quickly expanded to four canned products. Now Lighthouse is a major player in the BC craft beer market and regularly brews eleven mainstays as well as a number of seasonals.

Lighthouse Brewing

Not built for beauty, but man, they make good beer.

However, unlike nearby Vancouver Island Brewing, a popular draw with tourists, Lighthouse isn’t built for visitors. Housed in an anonymous industrial building down an obscure alley, Lighthouse is never going to win the prize for most beautiful brewery. But they brew a lot of good beer.


Lighthouse three-vessel brewhouse

Matt was kind enough during a busy day to take us on a tour of Lighthouse, starting with their 25-hL brewhouse. This is a 3-vessel brewhouse: a combined mash/lauter tun, a kettle and a separate whirlpool. This allows the brewers to make more batches — instead of having to leave the wort in the kettle at the end of the boil in order to whirlpool it (to remove coagulated proteins and hop residue), the brewer can move the wort into the whirlpool vessel, move a fresh batch of wort into the now-empty kettle and save 25 minutes of brewing time. Twenty-five minutes may not seem like a lot, but if you are brewing around the clock, that will allow you to brew several more batches of beer every day. And more beer means more money.


Matt Lyons in front of 100-hectolitre monster fermentors

And if you’re going to be brewing more beer, you need fermentors — lots and lots of fermentors. And Matt showed us lots of fermentors, including roomfuls of 25-hectolitre vessels (each holding a single batch) and several quad-batch monsters capable of holding 100 hectolitres.

Where there are many fermentors, there’s also lots of cleaning — well, that’s the life of a brewer. Kids, don’t become a brewer if you complain about washing the dishes.

And what are you going to do with all that beer when it’s ready? You’d better have a quick way of bottling or canning a lot of beer every day.Yes, Matt showed us the packaging lines, including a rotary filler for bottles.

bottling line

Rotary bottle filler

A rotary filler is a neat piece of equipment: empty bottles arrive on a conveyor belt, enter the large wheel, are filled and capped as they make make one revolution and then are shunted down another conveyor belt to be cartoned. Like I said, neat. A lot of moving parts though — I have heard them called an instrument of the Dark Lord by other brewers.

We also saw canning lines, stacks of pallets of cans, cartons of hops — this place is set up to make and package beer.

As a postscript, in the time since we visited, Matt has been given the opportunity to develop new recipes for Lighthouse, and one of his beers won a medal at this year’s British Columbia Brewing Awards.

Go, Matt!


Taking the ferry to Pow Town

January 12, 2014

Over the Christmas Break, we visited relatives in the small village of Comox, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. If you like your winter days bright, cold and snowy, then Comox is the wrong place to spend Christmas — December there is cool and overcast, and the stuff falling from the sky is usually misty rain. On the plus side, golf courses are open year round.

The day after we arrived, I was shopping for locally produced beer when I came across several made by Townsite Brewing of Powell River. I had not heard of Townsite before, so I looked up their website when I got home. As it turns out, the town of Powell River is on the mainland coast directly opposite from Comox; the two communities are connected by a small ferry that traverses the 26 km of Georgia Strait several times a day. Furthermore, Townsite conducts a tour of the brewery each Saturday at 3 p.m.

“Hey,” Elaine said, “tomorrow is Saturday. I’ll drop you off at the ferry, you go visit the brewery, and I’ll pick you up when you get back.”

So it was, friends, that the next day I found myself standing on the dock at Powell River watching the ferry disappear back into the mist. Okay, to be absolutely accurate, although I might have been on a dock, I was not exactly at Powell River. It turns out that for one reason or another, the ferry dock was  built about five kilometres outside of town. For someone in a car, five kilometres is a 5-minute drive. For someone on foot — like me — the five kilometres represents a one-hour hike. Luckily I had come dressed for a typical cool winter day on the B.C. coast: a sweater, Goretex rain pants, and a Goretex rain coat with a zip-in liner. (Outerwear made with Goretex or some other waterproof-breathable fabric is to British Columbia what sunscreen is to Jamaica.) So I set off down the highway towards town.

Most of the rugged coast of B.C. emerges from the Pacific waters at a steep angle and immediately starts to gain altitude. So any road on or near the coast has some stiff climbs. The weather might have been cool — about 8°C — but pretty soon, I was puffing (and steaming) like Thomas the Tank Engine. At Kilometre 1, my Goretex rain pants went into my backpack.  At Kilometre 2, my sweater followed. At Kilometre 3, I removed the liner of my coat. At Kilometre 4, I fully opened the ventilation zippers of my coat. By the time I descended into Powell River, I was down to my sweat-soaked t-shirt. Had the walk been any longer, I might have staggered into town in my underwear.

Despite my sorry physical state, I couldn’t help but admire the well-maintained Arts & Crafts houses lining the main street, an immediate reminder of Powell River’s recent history.

For centuries, a fishing village inhabited by the Tla’Amin, a Coastal Salish First Nation, had stood by the mouth of the Teesquot (“Big River”). But when B.C. joined the Canadian confederation in 1871, the new government set out to modernize the province; within a few years, a government official named Powell visited the Teesquot area and gave the river a properly modern English name — his own. By 1910, the Tla’Amin village had disappeared, replaced by a huge pulp and paper mill that needed all the fresh cool water the Powell River could provide.


Typical Arts & Crafts style home in original Powell River Townsite.

In order to attract workers to the isolated mill, the owners constructed the Powell River Townsite, one of the first planned milltown communities in Canada. On a gridiron pattern of streets, they built an entire town of standardized Arts & Crafts houses that also included parks, sports facilities, a golf course, a hotel, an apartment block, a boarding house, a hospital, churches, a community centre, a bank, a movie theatre, and a company store. 

During the first half of the twentieth century, the mill continued to expand; by the time it reached its peak in 1973, it was the largest pulp & paper operation in the world, with over 2300 employees. However, changes to the global economy and larger and more efficient mills in other countries led to economic stagnation. Today, although the pulp and paper mill still operates, its output is considerably reduced, and Powell River — “Pow Town” to the locals — is a pretty quiet place.


Fish tacos & Tin Hat IPA

Alas, even after the one-hour hike, I was still hours too early for the brewery tour, so I retired to a nearby restaurant for a spot of lunch and a glass of Townsite Brewery’s Tin Hat IPA. (“Tin hat” refers to the steel safety helmets worn by millworkers.) Tin Hat has the characteristic pine nose of a northwestern IPA, and a sharp but not overwhelming citrus bite that balanced a nice touch of caramel. Add a plate of fish tacos and it was a very tasty way to spend an hour.


Townsite Brewing uses a few rooms on the ground floor of this old post office

With lunch finished, I crossed the street to Townsite Brewery, situated just up the road from the steam-wreathed paper mill, on the ground floor of the former town post office.

Entering, I discovered that I was the only visitor. Unless more tourists arrived, this was going to be a pretty short and personal tour. However, I still had an hour to go before the tour started; luckily the young woman in the tasting room offered to let me sample everything they had on tap. And for a small brewery, they had quite a bit on tap.

First up was Westview Wheat, a light and zesty Belgian wheat beer that would be perfect on a summer patio. Wait a sec, a Belgian ale in B.C., home of the northwest-style IPA? What up with that? The young woman told me the story as she continued to pour beers:

The first thing I had to understand was that even in this modern age, Powell River remains relatively isolated. Although as the crow flies, Pow Town is only 170 kilometres from the bright lights of Vancouver, driving there requires a long and winding drive through some rocky terrain, a steep descent to a ferry dock, a ferry ride across an ocean inlet, another twisty turny drive through the mountains, another ferry ride across a second ocean inlet, and more driving through the mountains. If you don’t miss your ferry connections, that 170 kilometres takes six hours to traverse.

(Next up was Zunga, a Belgian blonde ale. A “zunga” apparently is the local name for the type of rope swing that you hang on to as you swing out over a river or lake. Zunga — the beer, not the swing — is a hybrid: made with Belgian ale yeast, but fermented at lower than normal temperatures and then stored (lagered) for a few weeks. The result is a beer with a faint lightly spiced nose, a very light mouthfeel and a quick spiced finish. A perfect summer beer to drink beside the river once you’ve finished zunga-ing.)

With geography finished, it was time for history. Enter Karen Skadsheim, a native of Vancouver who had been working in Europe for a few years. Upon her return to Canada, she stayed with her brother in Powell River while she looked for a job in Vancouver. But the longer she stayed in Pow Town, the more she liked it. And as a native Vancouverite who had grown up with craft beer, she soon realized there was a large hole in Powell River’s economic output, at least as far as she was concerned: there was no local brewery. She drew up a plan for a small brewery. Now all she needed was a brewer.

(It was time to taste Suncoast Pale Ale — a nice touch of spice in the nose, a light mouthfeel and just a slight spiciness in the finish. A nice session ale — and only available for sessions, since this is only found on draught.)

Karen’s ad for a brewer ended up attracting the attention of Cedric Dauchot, a Belgian brewer who was living in Saskatoon, of all places. Cedric, trained as a brewer in his native Belgium, had been working in Montreal for Les Trois Brasseurs when he met Chloe Smith, who was also a brewer. They ended up getting married and moving to Smith’s home province of Saskatchewan to open a brewery. Unfortunately that venture failed, which gave Cedric and Chloe the opportunity to move to Powell River.

Which is why I was tasting Belgian ales in B.C.

Time to move on to the 7800 Saison — so named because Powell River is exactly 7800 kilometres from Cedric’s hometown in Belgium. With its spicy coriander nose and fuller body, this saison would be a perfect match for heartier dinner fare.

Townsite has been open for a year and a half, which has given Cedric enough time to expand his repertoire of beers to include a west coast-style IPA. Although I had just finished a glass of Tin Hat IPA not half an hour before, I was only too happy to taste it again. It is often said that no B.C. brewery can survive without an IPA; I don’t know if this is true, but I am sure glad to see Tin Hat on Townsite’s list of offerings. This is definitely not a Belgian style, but Cedric’s deft use of northwest hops to produce that juicy citrus tang demonstrates he understands the local beer scene.

And what Belgian brewery is complete without some big beers? First up was Shiny Penny, an 8.5% abv Belgian IPA, featuring a fruity nose of tropical mango, a sweetness mid-taste and a drying bitter finish with a hint of alcoholic warmth. (Apparently Shiny Penny was the name of the brewpub Cedric and Chloe were going to open in Saskatoon.)

Pow Town Porter is the brewery’s award winner, having picked up a gold medal at the BC Beer Awards in 2012, and a silver medal last year. It has a very approachable nose of bitter chocolate and coffee, a medium body despite its 5.5% abv, a nice toasty breadiness, and a roasty finish.

Bière d’Hiver (French for Winter Ale) is their current seasonal and another award winner, taking a bronze at the BC Beer Awards in 2013. This rich winter warmer has a nose of raisins, coriander and a hint of tropical fruit, a taste of plums and brown sugar — apparently Cedric hand-makes 60 kg of candi sugar to add to the kettle — and a warming caramel booziness in the finish.

As I finished my final sample, I looked around and to my surprise, the place had filled up with visitors waiting for the tour. Holy smokes, there must have been twenty people. Where had they all come from? Most of them knew about the tour and had arrived right at 3 p.m. However, I chatted with one couple who had just been driving by and had dropped in on a whim — they didn’t believe me when I told them this was the only tour of the week.


Mr. Twinkletoes, who keeps the mice on their toes

Finally the magic hour of 3 p.m. arrived. A cheery young woman with a New Zealand accent greeted us and led us into the back of the brewery to start the tour, accompanied by the brewery’s vermin destroyer, Mr. Twinkletoes.

Our first stop was the brewhouse, a standard two-vessel design (mash/lauter and kettle/whirlpool). I was interested to see a small filter on the floor beside the mash/lauter tun. Its purpose, explained out guide, was to help remove bits of grain that managed to get through the lauter screen.


Brewhouse. Note small filter on floor beside mash tun

The system looked to be about 5 hL, but our tour guide wasn’t sure, although she did state that  Cedric brews twice a week and produces about 24 hL per month.


Even with the low profile, it is still a bit of a tight squeeze between floor and ceiling once pipes and valves have been installed.

Right across the aisle from the brewhouse are three fermentors. There being not much call for 20-foot ceilings in a post office, the fermentors are low and squat, with side-mounted manways in order to fit under the office-height ceilings.

Once fermented and matured, the beer is run through a plate-and-frame filter for clarification and then on to a couple of bright tanks to await bottling.

The packaging line was interesting. Like Black Oak in Etobicoke, Townsite uses a compressed-air driven 6-head Meheen filler to fill and cap 650-mL bombers, and a labeller to apply labels. Unlike Black Oak — and just about every other brewery I have seen — Townsite labels the empty bottles first, then fills them. Huh. It was also interesting that the bottling line and filling line are not connected by a conveyor belt, although this may be due to a lack of space.


The 6-head Meheen filler (foreground) and the labeller (against the wall). Unlike other breweries, the two are not connected by a converyor belt.

Meheens take some doing to set up and get going properly, so once you get them going, you don’t want to them to stop. But as far as I could see with this set up,  the Meheen would have to be shut down every time the labeller goes “whoo-ey”. (And my experience is that, since the labeller is an instrument of the devil, problems with it can be frequent.)


HydroFlask growler

That was the end of the tour, so time to retire back to the tasting lounge. Those people who had arrived just before the tour started could taste some samples.Those that had already tasted the samples — like me — were free to browse through the logo swag that was for sale.

Townsite sells growlers — as I’ve mentioned before, B.C. is one of those wonderful jurisdictions where you can bring in your own growler to get refilled. It was interesting to see that in addition to the standard glass growlers, Townsite also sells Hydr0Flask steel vacuum insulated growlers for about $50 — yes, the very same flasks I reviewed some months ago.


Tumbler. Flagon. Goblet. Definitely not a glass.

And what would a trip to a brewery be without picking up a little souvenir? Sometimes I pick up a hat or maybe a t-shirt, but of course, never a beer glass — Elaine has mentioned my burgeoning beer glass collection.  I did see something a little unique and decided it would fit into a suitcase for the flight home. Well, it’s not exactly a “glass”, is it?

And then, it was time to make the one-hour hike back to the ferry terminal — the ferry was scheduled to leave in just over an hour, and 26 km across the Georgia Strait, my dinner awaited.

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